08.17.17

Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy North East Regional IDeA Conference

Thank you, Frank, for your kind introduction and thank you all for inviting me here today.  I particularly want to recognize the researchers who have travelled to Burlington from across the region and from NIH’s campus in Bethesda.  Thank you, Dr. Taylor and others for making the trip to Vermont.  I hope you find some time to enjoy our beautiful state during your visit.  

The Institutional Development Award program was created to expand the breadth of institutions conducting biomedical research.  By all accounts, this program has been a tremendous success.  The funding has attracted talented researchers and practitioners to historically underserved communities, and training students and faculty in these communities to be competitive in future research endeavors.  Targeted investments from IDeA have led to tremendous medical advances in treatment of diseases, including cancer.

As a network, you have effectively used these funds to coordinate across states to improve information sharing, thus accelerating research capabilities.  The North East Cyberinfrastructure Consortium is a perfect example of this collaboration, which has allowed for the development of fiber network “rings” across the Northeast, enabling a much greater capability to share information quickly between universities. 

Additionally, the recently funded Clinical and Translational Research grant through IDeA to establish the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network will allow New England states to conduct collaborative clinical and translational research, which will improve both health outcomes and healthcare delivery in our region.

In Vermont, IDeA funding has been instrumental in helping create and maintain a network of highly skilled researchers and practitioners who help lead and fund research throughout the state.  The Vermont Genetics Network, an IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, allows researchers and students to have access to cutting edge technology to zero in on specific genes to help cure diseases.  By updating labs and purchasing state-of-the-art technology, Vermont Genetics Network has been able to increase the funding competitiveness of projects and researchers statewide.  The Vermont Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases, a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, has used IDeA funding to recruit highly talented researchers to examine how the immune system responds to infection.  Their work not only helps to train the next generation of scientists, but helps make medical breakthroughs with relevance to other diseases, such as cancer and autoimmunity, among others.  Under the leadership if Dr. Judith Van Houton and Dr. Ralph Budd, these centers have thrived. 

Despite these advances and others, it is hard not to feel anxious in the face of uncertainty surrounding the federal budget and investments in biomedical research through the NIH.  President Trump’s proposed budget slashes NIH resources by $7.2 billion – or 21 percent.  This would be the lowest NIH budget since fiscal year 2002.  Medical research cannot be turned on and off.  Scientists don’t hit “pause” on studies and continue the research when Federal funding resumes.  The ups and downs of the budget – based on the whims of an anti-science, know-nothingism administration – are particularly harmful to the medical research field.  Budding scientists and researchers might decide to seek other career paths, leaving fewer scientists and fewer discoveries. 

Not only would President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to NIH have a chilling effect on medical research nationwide, this budget also includes a cap on indirect costs granted to universities and other entities that conduct research.  These funds literally keep the lights on in laboratories, making research possible. 

The bigger picture in all of this right now is the deeply troubling anti-science agenda that is reflected in the Administration’s budget, and in its wholesale rollback of science-based policies, regulations and initiatives, from renewable energy, to withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. 

Not only has NIH been a target, but also EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and NOAA.  America’s leadership in vibrant, frontier-forging science and technology has been a great strength for our country, our people, and our economy.  I don’t believe that most Americans truly believe that our air and water are too healthy, or that the deep recession that struck in 2008 happened because Wall Street had too much regulation. 

Week by week, through this spread of anti-science know-nothingism, we’re in danger of taking great leaps backward from our hard-won scientific leadership.  It would be a travesty, and a great loss to our nation, to squander these gains and that leadership.

The Appropriations Committee is where we set our national budget priorities.  It is where priorities become more than rhetoric; it is where they become real.  We're only as strong as our values, and our values are only as real as our priorities, and our actions. I am gratified that, so far, we have had some success in forging bipartisan coalitions of support for replacing the Administration’s anti-science budget agenda with sound and forward-looking priorities.  I will do all I can to extend the successes that we have had so far.

We must prove to the world that we will stand firm in our commitment to medical research for generations to come.  As Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, I can assure you that I am committed to working across the aisle to put forward spending bills that not only retain, but advance these commitments.

Thank you for your commitment to research that aims to improve the lives of individuals across the globe.  Your work directly saves lives, and we commend your tireless dedication to this important field. 

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